1.18.2015

"Inside the Criminal Mind", by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. (book review)


As a police officer, I find interesting the study of the thought processes and personalities that inspire criminals to behave as they do.  Although originally written several years ago, "Inside the Criminal Mind" has been revised and updated to include recent news-breaking crime stories, taking readers on a journey through the criminal mind from adolescence to adulthood.

WHAT CAUSES CRIME? The main question in the book is the one asked frequently, "Can we predict who will or will not commit crime?"  While Dr. Samenow attempts to answer such questions, each chapter seems to conclude with the suggestion, "We cannot know for sure who will or will not become a criminal."

What is encouraging to know is that parents don't turn children into criminals, and that we cannot predict how a child will turn out by looking at his parents (p.21).  This is going to come as a relief for some people, wondering if their poor decisions as parents led one of their children into a life of crime, but will be frustrating to others, thinking fixed parenting will lead to the solution.  But citing numerous stories of siblings who grew up in the same households, Dr. Samenow showed how some became criminals, while others became productive members of society.

SOCIAL LIFE: Simply associating with "rotten apples" is not a causative factor in criminality.  While associating with delinquent peers is indeed a risk factor for turning to crime, Dr. Samenow says this is "like saying diving into water gets you wet.  It reveals nothing about causation, but a great deal about choice" (p.47).  We cannot forget that criminals make choices; they are not forced into any action they commit.

Citing case studies of criminals' school, work, and social lives, Dr. Samenow drives home the point that criminality is a matter of choice, and adding drugs and alcohol to the "mix" only intensifies what already exists in a person (p.176).  Drugs and alcohol are not inherently the problem; they simply exacerbate the problem that already exists.

Dr. Samenow makes the case that responsible people discover the meaning in the processes of achievement.  When hard work leads to accomplishing a task, a good feeling about oneself is achieved.  A criminal, however, tends to set unrealistically high goals for himself that he cannot realistically achieve.  As a result, he becomes discouraged and quits shortly after beginning his work (p.209).

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? Much great emphasis has been placed on the rehabilitation process of criminals.  The problem, however, according to Dr. Samenow, is not solved by RE-habilitation, but by habilitation.  "The very concept of rehabilitation is flawed" (p.279).  RE-habilitation assumes a positive personality trait and good character has always existed in a criminal's life, and that the criminal simply lost it and needs to get it back.  However, that is largely not the case.  Instead, the good character traits were never present in many criminals' lives to begin with, so the issue is establishing a new personality and character in place.  He calls this habilitation, rather than re-habilitation because for many, this process is a first-time event.

Unfortunately, many people (loved-ones, mentors, etc.) abandon the effort to habilitate criminals -- it's costly, time-consuming, and tiresome.  The criminal has to want to change if he is going to be habilitated.  But his mentors may just run out of steam in the habilitation process.  If the criminal, therefore, is your loved one, this process of habilitation will be long and arduous.  But, it will not succeed if the criminal does not want to change.  "They must reach a point in life when they are becoming fed up with themselves and, consequently, desire to change" (p.329).

CONCLUSION: I think the last paragraph sums up the solution quite succinctly, and it is found in the Bible's Proverbs: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (23:7).  We are as we think.  It is impossible to help a person give up crime and live responsibly without helping him to change what is most basic -- his thinking" (p.330).

RATING: For those interested in the study of crime and causality, I think you will appreciate this book.  I gleaned from it many invaluable insights, and I believe the intended readers are those employed as social workers, therapists, police officers, corrections officers, etc.  For this reason, I give "Inside the Criminal Mind" 5 stars out of 5.  For any other reader group, you likely won't be too interested in it.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.  I was made no promises in exchange for a positive review.

12.31.2014

"NKJV Note-Taker's Bible", by Zondervan Bibles (review)

For those of us who like to write in our Bibles, this version is a good resource.  However, there are a few things you must understand about this Bible before purchasing it.

Whenever a book offers large spaces in the page margins for note-writing, one of two things must occur. Either (1) the Bible has to be a monstrous volume in order to provide ample writing space, or (2) the Bible must be written with such small print that the reader strains his eyes reading it.  The latter is true in this case.

DIMENSIONS:
The Bible weighs 1 pound, 14.4 ounces.  Its thickness from cover to cover measures approximately 1 1/8". The cover is approximately 9 1/2" tall, and 6 1/2" wide. Pages measure approximately 9 1/4" tall, and 6 1/4" wide.  The outer and lower margins provide approximately 1 1/4" and 1" respectively for note-writing.  Not bad, actually.

However, letters stand approximately 1/16" tall, and each of the two columns per page span approximately 2 1/4" (depending on whether it's a poetry or prose section).  A little small for my tastes.
Photograph added to show margin and print sizes only.
VERSION:
The version I received for review is the NKJV.  On a personal level, I enjoy the NKJV, a proven readable and reliable version. However, I am not providing a review of the text, but the physicality of the Bible only.

COMMENTARY:
If you're looking for a study Bible with author/editor commentaries, then this is not the right choice for you. If, however, you find yourself getting bogged down with all the varied suggestions, you might like this Bible. There exists at the bottom margins of the pages some editorial inserts suggesting what the original texts of given verses seem to have suggested.  Because there is no concordance in the back, cross-referencing passages will have to be accomplished via the use of other tools.

RATING:
This Bible version is a good idea for note-takers, but its text is a bit small for reading.  Nevertheless, it is simple and basic.  I give this Bible 4 stars out of 5 for its simplicity and usability.

DISCLAIMER:
I received this Bible free of charge from BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not promised reward or coerced to provide a positive review.  All opinions are mine.

12.22.2014

It is Good!


"It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to the Most High.  It is good to proclaim His unfailing love in the morning, His faithfulness in the evening" (Psalm 92:1-2).

 The Genesis account of creation presents the great pleasure God finds with the creation of His own hands, saying, "God saw that it was good" (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25, 31).  Elsewhere, we read that "the heavens proclaim His righteousness" (Psalm 97:6).

 The point is that God is pleased with all that His creation says about Him, for ALL of creation says SOMETHING!  All creation says something glorious, whether the creatures know it or not, whether the voice is of an unintelligible language or not.  Through scientific advancements, such as Asteroseismology (aka "stellar seismology"), we can easily hear this truth from pulsating stars.



 If God finds pleasure in the songs of whales and stars and winds and waves (and anything else we cannot right now hear), then how much more does He find pleasure in our praises!  Of all creation, we human beings are the only creatures who have the capability and freedom to either praise or curse God.  All other creation sings only glorious praises day and night.

 What songs will your heart and soul sing?  Who will they praise?  Will you join with all of creation to sing praises to your Maker?

 Keep these simple thoughts in mind: Nowhere does the Bible say that the quality of your singing voice is what's important; or that the abilities of your artistic expression need to meet the standards of Beethoven or Michelangelo.  Instead, God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7) it is the heart of your praises (Psalm 51:17) that matter to God .

 Praise Him with all of your heart...for it is good!

12.06.2014

"Parcells: A Football Life", by Bill Parcells & Nunyo Demasio (book review)


I grew up watching one of the all-time best linebackers in NFL history: number "56" -- Lawrence Taylor -- of the New York football Giants.  And I remember watching as the imposing figure on the sidelines, whose coaching style was nothing short of driven to win: Bill Parcells.

This book takes the reader on a journey from the early days of Bill's childhood -- where he was raised by a tough father -- to his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. Because it is difficult to sum up a 500+ page biography in a short blog book review, I will hit on a few points that inspired my thinking.

THE INFLUENCE OF A FATHER: There are many reasons why fathers' influence over our sons' lives are crucial.  For instance, who we are as fathers/men and how we treat our children and wives cause our children to view our Heavenly Father in much the same ways as they view us.  Are they afraid of us, or do they find comfort in our presence?  Are we lazy, or are we driven? 

Who Bill Parcells was as a coach, and who he is as a man, is the direct result of his father's strong influence on him.  The two men pulled no punches; they knew what was necessary to be successful; and they were driven to accomplish their goals.  Many of the stories told in the book regarding Bill's coaching tenure returned to the influence his own father had on him.  Fatherhood is no small task!

BEING TOUGH, BUT RESPECTABLE: I think we humans tend to equate a coach (or a supervisor) being "tough" with his/her employees to being a jerk.  Likewise, we may also be tempted to equate "respectable" to being liked or nice.  But that isn't necessarily so.

Bill Parcells cared about his players, and he cared about winning.  He had high expectations of his players, and he was never afraid to have those difficult conversations that needed to be had with the people who needed to hear them.

Bill was known for his tough-on-drugs approach to football, and his influence on his teams is what inspired the NFL to pursue substance abuse policies.  In his system, drug users and winners did not mix.  Personnel may not have liked Bill Parcells during those tough conversations, but afterward they came out on the other side as human beings.  I got the feeling after reading the book they all appreciated those hard conversations, too.

STRONG LEADERSHIP:  Crummy teams that start at the bottom in one season and finish at the top just a few seasons later always seem to be coached by strong leaders. I've often wondered how influential coaching staffs really are, as I considered my favorite team's mediocre season with mediocre players and coaches and the possibility of them being turned around with the same players but different coaches.  I think Parcells answers that question, because Bill was able to make winners out of non-winners.

I talked with my wife about strong leadership in the workplace, and how Parcells's style would fit in the public sector.  Imagine knowing exactly what was expected of you on a daily basis at work; Imagine being held to a known standard; and imagine knowing exactly what the rewards and consequences were for not meeting those standards. 

Strong leaders in those scenarios pull no punches.  Employees know exactly what they're getting because strong leaders are consistently strong, rather than wishy-washy.  Employees may not like to hang around that kind of supervisor, but it begs the question: Is it a supervisor's job to be an employee's friend, or to make them and the organization better?

CONCLUSION: Once again, this is certainly NOT all that this book is about.  There is so much more.  You'll have to read this monster volume for yourself the glean what you will from it.

RATING: This book was very well researched and documented, and brilliantly intertwined biographical information with sporting replay.  If you're a sports fan, this book is for you...it has all the who's-who you could ever hope for in a biography.  It's a no-brainer: I give this 5 stars out of 5!

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review.  All opinions are mine; they were not forced upon me.  I was not promised anything in exchange for a positive review.

11.27.2014

Expressing Thankfulness on Thanksgiving Day:


When I was young, holidays were all about me...or so I thought.  It was about what gifts people would give ME, because I was the center of my universe.  As I've grown and matured through the years, I've come to appreciate the deep value of holidays as a time for reflection.  While I am (and we are) thankful daily, I think expressing our thanks as a group has tremendous value.

So after we finished eating lunch and sat around the table talking, I unfolded my son's art easel and explained to the family and loved ones what I hoped they would do with me.  Starting from the youngest and moving up to the oldest, I asked each person to express one thing for which s/he is thankful.  I started writing the answers on the easel, but my oldest son liked the idea of drawing pictures better...so he drew peoples' answers.  He was right, it was much better.

We laughed and we cried as we shared with each other what was on our hearts: one person was healed of cancer, others experienced restored marriages or relationships.  We expressed thankfulness for love that was lost and found, jobs that provide income.  And we expressed thankfulness for the grace, faithfulness, and salvation God our Savior has lavished upon us. 

As each person shared, we didn't simply leave it at that.  Instead, we talked about their reflection and if that same thanks affected our own lives.  I thought it was a tremendously remarkable experience to hear and share.  As I listened, I was truly blessed.

God, thank you for all those things (...and more) you heard us talking about today.

11.15.2014

"Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy", by Eric Metaxas (book review)


INTRODUCTION: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian pastor in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, was killed for his opposition to the regime.  Born in 1906, and turning to Christ at a young age, Bonhoeffer entered pastoral ministry, and stood firm amid persecution.  In the early '40's, he humbly and courageously accepted his fate that was held by the gallows.  This is his story in abridged format.

REFLECTIONS: I have mixed feelings when I read biographies like this one.  First, I am discouraged by the eerie shadows of history looming over us, as if history is waiting quietly to "repeat itself".  On the other hand, I am encouraged as I enjoy peering into the lives of courageous men and women who have refused to bow their knees to the tyrant-du-jour, despite facing real threats of execution.

Nazi Germany issued harsh ordinances against Christians, forcing allegiance to the Hitler and his Reich (p.119).  Those who rejected it were rewarded with death, while those who paid it allegiance did not fare much better. Still, while many acquiesced, some remained faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of them.

There seems to be a common thread found among the message of the persecuted in Jesus Christ, and that is the deep faith they have in their Lord.  When Bonhoeffer fled to America in the early 1930's, attempting to find relief from persecution, he wrote of the American church, "In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life" (p.43).  The Church that waters down the message of the gospel faces certain risk of death.  The German church allowed it to happen then, and the American Church has been doing it since.  History suggests that it is only a matter of time before Christians in the West face similar oppression as those under the hood of the Third Reich.

In 1937, "more than eight hundred Confessing Church pastors and lay leaders were imprisoned or arrested" (p.112).  And "In Berlin, the Confessing Church planned a service of intercession...two hundred and fifty of the faithful were arrested..." (p.115).  Since the early days of Christ's Church, persecution has only strengthened its resolve against evil.  The Christian under these pressures "must obey God rather than men" (p.113).

I was most encouraged by one of Bonhoeffer's statements near the end of his life: "To be sure, God shall call you, and us, only at the hour that God has chosen.  Until that hour, which lies in God's hands alone, we shall all be protected even in greatest danger" (p.145).  What a tremendously powerful proclamation of the sovereignty of God, and it ought to encourage the faithful.  No matter what evil men may conspire against the Bride of Christ, nothing will come other than that which is at God's direction.  Bonhoeffer's words are in line with God's word: "no harm will befall you, and no evil will come near your tent" (Psalm 91).

As death loomed over him, Bonhoeffer was a man who was faithful to the end.  As he was led toward the gallows, Bonhoeffer quietly said to his fellow captives, "This is the end.  For me, the beginning of life" (p.208).  Reflecting upon Bonhoeffer's death, one camp doctor concluded, "I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God" (p. 209).  O, when my day arrives, may those words be said of you and me.

RATING: I give "Bonhoeffer Abridged" 4 stars out of 5.  I was a good book -- not a "page turner", but certainly worth my reading time.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers (Thomas Nelson Publishers) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine; they were not forced upon me.  I was not promised anything in exchange for a positive review.

11.11.2014

Always a Hero:

From 1968 to 1969, my dad fought for others' freedoms in a country literally on the other side of our world -- VietNam.  For many years after the war, he tucked away the stories, thoughts, and emotions.  I didn't come to realize just how painful those memories of losing some of his best friends in combat were until one Christmas about 20 years ago.  Here's our story.

I was rummaging through the attic in our home one day and came across a dusty, black box.  I wiped off the dust and opened it, finding a treasure of US Army medals inside: 2 Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, and a Silver Star.  I had little idea what these medals meant or the emotions they carried with them.  All I knew as a naive, uninformed 18-year old is that my dad fought in 'Nam.

That's when the idea struck me, "I'll put these in a shadow box.  He'll like that."  I talked the idea over with mom, who gave me tips on how to make the shadow box.  After finishing it, I had the epiphany, "I'll wrap it like an American flagHe'll love it!"  I finished off the shiny wrapping with pride.  I was so excited not only to give it to him for Christmas, but to watch him open it.  Oh the joy he would experience upon opening these long lost treasures!  Right?

Christmas morning came, and it was finally my turn to give him the surprise.  I carefully handed dad the American-flag wrapped box and watched him open it.  Slowly.  He looked inside and slowly closed it.  I don't remember him saying much more than, "Thanks, buddy."  I was taken aback that he wasn't more excited.  Remember, I was naive, so I didn't understand why he wasn't more excited.  When the days and weeks passed by and I didn't see the shadow box proudly hung up somewhere, I felt sad.  Not just for me, but for him. Because that's about the time it hit me.

That Christmas season was the point when I realized these were no long-forgotten medals.  Instead, dad remembered them clearly; and he remembered too vividly how he "earned" them.  The price was his own blood and the lives of his friends, comrades, and brothers in arms.  These medals were tightly closed away, not out of forgetfulness, but simply guarding the feelings and emotions of the great soldier whose breast they once adorned.

I have scant memories of dad ever talking about his ordeals in VietNam until one day about five years ago.  I'm bad with dates, but it was probably around 2009-2010 -- nearly 40 years after returning home from war -- that I would begin hearing stories and seeing pictures that told of the times he and his men endured.  I saw pictures of men huddled around boots and rifles and tanks and trucks; pictures of men with their arms around each others' shoulders, laughing and smiling, probably in celebration that they were still alive to see another day -- probably already trying to tuck away the painful emotions that accompanied the pain and loss they had already experienced.

More than forty years later, dad seems like he is healing well.  I'm sure there's more inside, but he talks about it, actively visiting schools, spending time with troops in V.A hospitals, and speaking at events.

Today happens to be Veteran's Day 2014.  I called dad to "chit-chat" with him on this day when so many of us simply appreciate the day off of work, or the overtime allotted for working a holiday, or even the sales at the stores.  Today, he told me about his weekend.  Helping.

A program called "Never Forgotten Heros" has made its way into my dad's life.  It is a program designed to help veterans of war in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from physical and mental (PTSD) trauma.  Dad told me about the 3 days where he selflessly served his country yet again.  Twelve young soldiers, ranging in ages from the low 20's to the mid-to-upper 30's shared and opened up and broke down with a handful of soldiers many years their senior.  It was a time for all of them to connect in some way -- a time for the young to lean on the old; a time for the old to honorably hold up the young; a time for these senior soldiers to pass along to young warriors the encouragement and support that they so desperately needed during their own journeys toward healing.

My heart pounded with pride as my dad humbly told me about how he was now involved with a few of these young men as a result of this weekend.  I said, "You 'da man, Pop."  'Cuz that's what I call him, "Pop."  And "You 'da man, Pop!" is guy talk for, "Dad, I am so damn proud of you!"

You see, in 1969, my dad was having a whole much of metal pinned to his chest for risking his own life to save the lives of other American GI's who had moms and children and sisters and fathers at home wishing for their return.  Some gave all, but all gave some.  Now in 2014, my dad is sacrificing his own time once again to help other young heroes find healing and wholeness in their lives...one day at a time. 

He IS -- not was -- truly an American hero.  Because once a hero, always a hero!